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That Thread in Which We Ruminate on the Confluence of Actor Stance, Immersion, and "Playing as if I Was My Character"

Emerikol

Adventurer
This isn't strictly true, though. House rules can be overridden by the table, assuming non-dysfunctional social contracts. At functional tables, players can have input and suggest house rules as well, and the table agrees to them or not. In cases where the GM is exerting unilateral authority, I'd say that this is still either by implied consent of the table, or dysfunction exists.
In my gaming culture, it is assumed, but of course no player is held hostage and forced to play. I don't think a player though would try to force the DM to play his way. He might argue a rule that the DM ostensibly says he supports and is enforcing. But, if the DM makes a final judgment no one would dispute that. If you feel like the DM is ruling badly a lot then you just find one that isn't doing that and join that group. So sure these gamer "roles" are imbued into our gaming culture.
 

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prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Imagine in the early days of D&D when most of the rules even in 1e AD&D did not exist but were brought into the game by the DM. For example, immunity to non-magical weapons. The DM might introduce that without notifying the players up front. The players might be surprised when they roll a 20 and the DM says your sword hits the target but there is no apparent damage. The rules as they know them make no mention of immunity to non-magical weapons.
Yeah, playing a game that is in the process of being written is different than playing one that's in print (or has been).

What I really wanted to react to, though, was this:
So players in this situation, who want my style of gaming, have to trust the DM.
Serious and sincere question: Is there any style of TRPG that works if the players don't (or can't) trust the GM? Seems to me the answer has to be "no," but I'm open to being wrong, here.
 
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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
You are making basic errors in your account of rules, authority, and the rule of law.

So, when talking about physics, there is a physical reality that does not care about our thoughts on the matter. Law is a human construct, however, so there is no objective reality to appeal to determine correctness.

For instance, I don't know of any thinker about the rule of law who thinks it is "what we apply to bad actors".

Lots of thinkers divorce themselves from practicalities.

To give one counterexample: I am not a bad actor; nevertheless I am bound by the principles of natural justice when I make decisions as an administrator of educational programs. This is a manifestation of the rule of law.

In human governance, law can be seen as a restriction or compulsion of action, explicitly or implicitly coupled with the consequences to be enacted by authorities for non-compliance. You are bound by law, insofar as there are professional or legal consequences for you if you do not comply.

Game rules are merely the restrictions and compulsions. Game rules do not address what happens to someone who fails to comply - The rules of D&D do not lay out what you do if someone rolls a d12 instead of a d8 for damage, for example.

But as I already said, I don't see any real profit in pursuing this discussion.

Then feel free to disengage. I won't chase you.
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
Yeah, playing a game that is in the process of being written is different than playing one that's in print (or has been).
I think a game that lacks any DM input creatively on the rules will not be as flavorful and good as it good be. So if Gygax had the complete rules, I don't doubt for a minute he'd still be adding something more to give his players a twist. So I don't view the lack of immunity to non-magical weapons as a flaw in the rules. Why would that be an essential component of D&D. I do consider it a flavorful enhancement and the sort of things a DM might add to his own game even in the world of 5e D&D.

Serious and sincere question: Is there any style of TRPG that works if the players don't (or can't) trust the GM? Seems to me the answer has to be "no," but I'm oen to being wrong, here.
Sure. I would imagine that a game that restricts what a DM can do and gives more power to the players would be better in this situation. Realize also that "distrust" does not equate to thinking the DM is evil. They may just not trust his judgment.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
I think a game that lacks any DM input creatively on the rules will not be as flavorful and good as it good be. So if Gygax had the complete rules, I don't doubt for a minute he'd still be adding something more to give his players a twist. So I don't view the lack of immunity to non-magical weapons as a flaw in the rules. Why would that be an essential component of D&D. I do consider it a flavorful enhancement and the sort of things a DM might add to his own game even in the world of 5e D&D.
I can see that, but I think with, say, 1e AD&D there was an explicit expectation both in the books and among the players that the DM would tinker with the rules, which doesn't exist in 5E. I'll grant that 5E specifically allows it, but I don't think that's the same thing.
 


Emerikol

Adventurer
I can see that, but I think with, say, 1e AD&D there was an explicit expectation both in the books and among the players that the DM would tinker with the rules, which doesn't exist in 5E. I'll grant that 5E specifically allows it, but I don't think that's the same thing.
I think they'd like to encourage it or at least not discourage it but sure I think Gygax had a strong opinion about what made a good DM and the work was mostly his at that point. So 1e is far stronger on that point. Agree on that.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
In my gaming culture, it is assumed, but of course no player is held hostage and forced to play. I don't think a player though would try to force the DM to play his way. He might argue a rule that the DM ostensibly says he supports and is enforcing. But, if the DM makes a final judgment no one would dispute that. If you feel like the DM is ruling badly a lot then you just find one that isn't doing that and join that group. So sure these gamer "roles" are imbued into our gaming culture.
Are we doing "in my gaming culture" now? Weird. I think I see @Umbran's point, as the cultures of gaming have gone from a descriptive discussion of different play agendas to now being a claimed identity, with all of the baggage that entails. Of course, I think this would have happened regardless of the term used, so "culture" isn't really the culprit, here.

I didn't suggest at all anyone was forcing anyone to play outside of the bucket of dysfunction. That is a clearly dysfunctional situation, whoever is forcing whomever. Outside of this strange suggestion, it appears you're agreeing with my statement -- the GM does not have absolute power of any kind because it's, at best, an implied grant of power by the table. If this grant is abused, the GM is reduced to no power, as the game folds when players leave. Power at the consent of the governed, I believe is the canonical structure -- the GM has no power not granted by the table.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
the GM does not have absolute power of any kind because it's, at best, an implied grant of power by the table. If this grant is abused, the GM is reduced to no power, as the game folds when players leave. Power at the consent of the governed, I believe is the canonical structure -- the GM has no power not granted by the table.
100% this. Whatever distribution of authority exists at a TRPG table is agreed upon by the people at the table, either by choosing the game they're playing, or by changing it. If I have ... final say over the setting at my tables (I allow players to put things into the setting at chargen, but otherwise very rarely) that's only because the players at those tables allow me to (or understand 5E to give me that say) and choose to stay at those tables.
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
100% this. Whatever distribution of authority exists at a TRPG table is agreed upon by the people at the table, either by choosing the game they're playing, or by changing it.
Agree. For those running campaigns like Gygax did, you may have many different adventuring groups passing through the world.

If I have ... final say over the setting at my tables (I allow players to put things into the setting at chargen, but otherwise very rarely) that's only because the players at those tables allow me to (or understand 5E to give me that say) and choose to stay at those tables.
Perhaps it's just phraseology here. The players allow it for them to play in the campaign but if a player or players refused it the campaign might go on with different players. Obviously, any players who do join have tacitly accepted the ground rules.
 

S'mon

Legend
This isn't strictly true, though. House rules can be overridden by the table, assuming non-dysfunctional social contracts. At functional tables, players can have input and suggest house rules as well, and the table agrees to them or not. In cases where the GM is exerting unilateral authority, I'd say that this is still either by implied consent of the table, or dysfunction exists.

Obviously the GM exercises their authority with the consent of the group.
In case of conflict, maybe the GM does change the rule - I had to drop group initiative in a 5e game due to player demand; it made combats go much quicker but it made players unhappy.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Obviously the GM exercises their authority with the consent of the group.
In case of conflict, maybe the GM does change the rule - I had to drop group initiative in a 5e game due to player demand; it made combats go much quicker but it made players unhappy.
Right, the point being that stating the GM has unilateral authority to impose their will on the game is actually far more complex a statement (and game dependent, but let's stick to D&D versions where this is typical) and actually means that the group has decided to let the GM implement things with implied consent until and unless revoked, as in your example.
 
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pemerton

Legend
I think abstract discussions about "the consent of the table" don't yield that much insight. In all social interactions there are power dynamics, and in that sense someone might be part of a D&D group, and might go along with a GM's rulings, even though s/he would really like to be out with a different group of friends at the cinema.

But those sorts of power dynamics normally aren't the same as the sheer force and/or coercion that characterises criminal activities like kidnapping, or governmental activities like a criminal justice system.

When contrasted to those paradigm cases of force and coercion, RPGing - like other leisure activities - is voluntarily and hence whatever happens depends, in a formal sense at least, on mutual agreement.

When trying to shed light on RPGing, once we have the starting point that RPGing involves collective agreement on a common fiction and that the rules of RPGing are a device for helping to establish that agreement, and to determine who gets to change the fiction and how, then we can talk about the allocation of responsibilities and authority by those rules.

When we do that, we can see that there are different ways of doing that. It's very typical, but not universal, for the rules to establish two particular and distinct participant roles - the GM and the players. But across the variety of games that do this, there is plenty of variation on what the rules say about who can change the fiction and how. Some of those differences are found in the rules themselves - eg a 4e D&D GM can introduce new elements into an unfolding scene largely at will (but is expected to have encounter-building guidelines in mind when doing so); a Moldvay Basic GM is expected to be constrained by his/her map and key when doing so but within those constraints has a comparable degree of freedom; a MHRP/Cortex+ Heroic GM is expected to spend Doom Pool dice in order to do this. And some are established not by the published or expressly-stated rules but are implicit in a group's expectations, or perhaps in a wider set of expectations that are part of a gaming "culture".

Baker gives some examples that illustrate these differences as they arise both from express rules and implicit expectations/understandings:


So you're sitting at the table and one player says, "[let's imagine that] an orc jumps out of the underbrush!"

What has to happen before the group agrees that, indeed, an orc jumps out of the underbrush?

1. Sometimes, not much at all. The right participant said it, at an appropriate moment, and everybody else just incorporates it smoothly into their imaginary picture of the situation. "An orc! Yikes! Battlestations!" This is how it usually is for participants with high ownership of whatever they're talking about: GMs describing the weather or the noncombat actions of NPCs, players saying what their characters are wearing or thinking.

2. Sometimes, a little bit more. "Really? An orc?" "Yeppers." "Huh, an orc. Well, okay." Sometimes the suggesting participant has to defend the suggestion: "Really, an orc this far into Elfland?" "Yeah, cuz this thing about her tribe..." "Okay, I guess that makes sense."

3. Sometimes, mechanics. "An orc? Only if you make your having-an-orc-show-up roll. Throw down!" "Rawk! 57!" "Dude, orc it is!" The thing to notice here is that the mechanics serve the exact same purpose as the explanation about this thing about her tribe in point 2, which is to establish your credibility wrt the orc in question.

4. And sometimes, lots of mechanics and negotiation. Debate the likelihood of a lone orc in the underbrush way out here, make a having-an-orc-show-up roll, a having-an-orc-hide-in-the-underbrush roll, a having-the-orc-jump-out roll, argue about the modifiers for each of the rolls, get into a philosophical thing about the rules' modeling of orc-jump-out likelihood... all to establish one little thing. Wave a stick in a game store and every game you knock of the shelves will have a combat system that works like this.

(Plenty of suggestions at the game table don't get picked up by the group, or get revised and modified by the group before being accepted, all with the same range of time and attention spent negotiating.)​

These examples are helpful in themselves for drawing our attention to the variety of ways shared fiction gets established and "incorporate[d] . . . . smoothly" by the participants "into their imaginary picture of the situation."

They also highlight some notions that might be used to help unpack that variety: a participant having ownership of some element of the fiction; a participant establishing credibility; and different ways of establishing credibility, like introducing more fiction to join the dots ("cuz this thing about her tribe . . .") or making a roll that generates the requisite authorial permission.

We can also extrapolate - eg some rolls might generate obligations, or prohibitions, rather than permissions. This is what a classic D&D saving throw does: the GM narrates You see the medusa, whose gaze will turn you to stone and then the player rolls the saving throw, and if it succeeds then the GM is prohibited from introducing, into the fiction, that the PC has turned to stone.

This also sheds some light on the hit point issue: when a player narrates I hit it for 7 points of damage! what new thing is everyone at the table obliged to incorporate into their imaginary picture of the situation? Not much, except that the foe has in some fashion been set back - at least for the moment - in the back-and-forth of combat. (We can also see, as has long been noted, that hit points work better for melee or perhaps mass missile attacks rather than for single shots of arrows.) It's only when the hit point loss reduces the target to zero that something more concrete has to be imagined - the foe drops from your attack - or when a morale check fails that some more concrete outcome is obliged to be introduced - the foe flees or the foe throws down its arms and surrenders!

The example of morale checks shows that in respect of at least some components of the fiction a classic D&D GM has less unilateral authority - less ownership - than a modern D&D GM.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I think abstract discussions about "the consent of the table" don't yield that much insight. In all social interactions there are power dynamics, and in that sense someone might be part of a D&D group, and might go along with a GM's rulings, even though s/he would really like to be out with a different group of friends at the cinema.

But those sorts of power dynamics normally aren't the same as the sheer force and/or coercion that characterises criminal activities like kidnapping, or governmental activities like a criminal justice system.

When contrasted to those paradigm cases of force and coercion, RPGing - like other leisure activities - is voluntarily and hence whatever happens depends, in a formal sense at least, on mutual agreement.

When trying to shed light on RPGing, once we have the starting point that RPGing involves collective agreement on a common fiction and that the rules of RPGing are a device for helping to establish that agreement, and to determine who gets to change the fiction and how, then we can talk about the allocation of responsibilities and authority by those rules.
For me, the discussion about table power dynamics is to get to this starting point -- I do not think that it's as widely accepted as you seem to think, here. There's a strong contingent of players that subscribe to the idea that the GM does, by right, have absolute authority. This then makes moving to a discussion based on the concept that RPGs involve collective agreement on shared fiction quite difficult.
 
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pemerton

Legend
For me, the discussion about table power dynamics is to get to this starting point -- I do not think that it's as widely accepted as you seem to think, here. There's a strong contingent of players that subscribe to the idea that the GM does, by right, have absolute authority. This then makes moving to a discussion based on the concept that RPGs involve collective agreement on shared fiction quite difficult.
Fair enough.

EDIT: Taken literally, that view would mean that all the players ever do in a RPG is make suggestions to the GM as to how s/he should change his/her unilaterally-authored fiction. To me that is a description of a degenerate case, and so I assume that no one really means to put it forward as a description of RPGing as such!
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Fair enough.

EDIT: Taken literally, that view would mean that all the players ever do in a RPG is make suggestions to the GM as to how s/he should change his/her unilaterally-authored fiction. To me that is a description of a degenerate case, and so I assume that no one really means to put it forward as a description of RPGing as such!
Right, I agree with your edit, but then most people have really spent a lot of time thinking on the hows and whatfors of how RPGs work, so they put forth the GM has unilateral absolute power, but then still play in a way that belies that.

I think it's a fair point to say that most people don't put a lot of thought into RPG theory or criticism. I'm of two minds on whether or not that's a good thing. I think it's fine, if there is a good, solid set of game criticism, because this means that designers are putting out well tuned games (hopefully) and so it's not that important. On the other hand, a lack of awareness means you're at the mercy of ill informed opinions and market copy and that you will have trouble correctly diagnosing root causes of failures at your table.
 

pemerton

Legend
I think it's a fair point to say that most people don't put a lot of thought into RPG theory or criticism. I'm of two minds on whether or not that's a good thing. I think it's fine, if there is a good, solid set of game criticism, because this means that designers are putting out well tuned games (hopefully) and so it's not that important. On the other hand, a lack of awareness means you're at the mercy of ill informed opinions and market copy and that you will have trouble correctly diagnosing root causes of failures at your table.
I've got no problem with people not being into criticism/theory!

It just gets a bit frustrating when they then project their own experiences onto everyone else's play as if that must be how it is.

And as you say, if they're having trouble in their own games then knowing a bit about how RPGing actually works can be useful for diagnosis and repair.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
But I don't think it's a coincidence that I left it out. Because even for very traditional D&D I think the idea of the GM being in charge of the rules tends to be overstated. When you look at actual empirical cases you see players make rules calls quite a bit.
Though said player-made rules calls are always subject to over-ride by the GM if they're incorrect. The holder of authority doesn't change.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Warhammer 40K and Magic - The Gathering have complex rules, but would not much benefit from an OSR style referee.
Back in the day when I bothered with the occasional M:tG tournament I can't recall even one where the judge(s) weren't constantly on the hop having to interpret or enforce the rules; and the tourney rules do state that a judge's ruling is final.
 

S'mon

Legend
The example of morale checks shows that in respect of at least some components of the fiction a classic D&D GM has less unilateral authority - less ownership - than a modern D&D GM.

I don't think that's right. The classic D&D morale rules IME are entirely GM-facing, the Classic players don't demand "Those orcs have to make a morale check now!". In practice they are entirely an aid to GM adjudication of the situation. They don't bind the GM's hands in the way a PC making a Saving Throw does.

I've noticed a tendency from some posters to equate especially Moldvay D&D with 'tight' systems that do bind the GM. Just because Moldvay is a 'complete system' (per Alexander) does not mean it's a tight system. It's far closer to OD&D than to Forgey games or boardgames. It gives GMs the tools to procedurally adjudicate large chunks of the dungeon crawl experience, but it doesn't bind the GM. You can read the Moldvay example of play and see how it only tangentially relates to the described procedures for play.
I'm wondering if this tendency comes from Baker.
 

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